The North Yorkshire vicar who became one of the first Wimbledon champions

From: Darlington & Stockton Times

John Hartley was born in Shropshire where his grandfather, George Thorneycroft, and his father, John Hartley, were industrialists and mayors of Wolverhampton. Our tennis-playing vicar eschewed their collieries and ironworks and preferred more spiritual concerns. He went to Harrow and Oxford, and in 1874, at the age of 25, was appointed to St Lambert’s Church at Burneston, near Bedale, where the living was controlled by the Duke of Cleveland, via his Leeming hunting lodge, Newton House (now lost beneath the aerodrome). The following year, the vicar married Alice Lascelles, the grand-daughter of the 3rd Earl of Harewood, and he practised his tennis. The All England Croquet Club held the first lawn tennis championships in 1877 in Wimbledon, and in 1879, Hartley paid one guinea to enter. The tournament started on Monday, July 7, and, perhaps surprising himself, on the Saturday, he won through to Monday’s semi-final, so he dashed home on the train to conduct the three Sunday services in St Lambert’s. Then one of his parishioners took a turn for the worse, and he sat with him into the early hours of Monday morning, administering the last rites as he slowly passed away. Job done, the vicar rushed back to Burneston Hall,  collected some sandwiches from Alice, rode on horseback to Thirsk station, caught an express to King’s Cross, hailed a cab to Waterloo station from where he caught a slowtrain to Wimbledon, changing into his tennis gear in the carriage.

He arrived in the nick of time but, obviously out of breath, lost the first set. But God moves in mysterious ways. The heavens opened, and play was suspended. After the rain break, a refreshed Hartley won the next three sets 6-0, 6-1, 6-1 and reached the final, where he was to play Vere St Leger Goold. When asked in later life if he recalled this opponent, he said: “Yes, he was an Irish gentleman, named St Leger. I was given to understand that that was an assumed name. He was a pleasant, typical Irish gentleman of some refinement.” Goold was the younger son of a wealthy Irish baronet, and the final was a clash of styles. The flamboyant Irishman, who had spent the Wimbledon fortnight socialising enthusiastically, flashed into the net while the vicar remained soberly on the baseline, perfecting a new stroke – the lob – which won him the title, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2.

After the pair had shaken hands in front of the 1,100 spectators on Centre Court, Hartley returned to his North Yorkshire parish with the 12 guineas first prize and a silver cup worth 25 guineas, and Goold carried on with the high living. In 1907, the Irishman and his wife hacked a wealthy Swedish widow to death, jammed her headless body into a trunk and carried it – and her fortune – to the tables of Monte Carlo where they expected to clean up. Instead, the gendarmes followed a trail of blood to their hotel room and Goold became the only Wimbledon champion to be convicted of murder.

No such drama for Canon JT Hartley. He returned to Wimbledon in 1880 and successfully defended his title. In 1881, he reached his third successive final, but was up against William Renshaw, inventor of the violent overhead smash stroke. He made mincemeat of the vicar’s clever, but delicate, lob, and won 6–0, 6–1, 6–1 in 36 minutes. It is still the shortest Wimbledon final – but that must surely be because Hartley was suffering a touch of “the English cholera”. The vicar concentrated on tending his flock in Burneston until his retirement in 1919, and when he died in1935, he was buried beneath the churchtower. A blue plaque on his £1.5m hall tells of his extraordinary place in tennis history.


Happy anniversary: 10 years Tennisarchives

In 2011 I decided to start I wasn’t really happy with existing sites, especially on pre 1968 Tennis. In that year Pro tennis finally won over the amateur game. For results and info post 1968 there are several good sites, Like ATP. Much has happened since the start of this site. The original builder suddenly died and all the info was saved at the very last moment. At first I did all the work on my own, but very soon David Donlon from the U.S. came to help me. The last years there is a group of loyal correspondents that are contributing with results, biographies, pictures etc. To name a few: Mark Ryan, Alexander Schwarz, Carlo Colussi, Roland Mittelberger, Jean-Marie Vienne, Peter Mac Hac, Sebastien Cognet and many others. Former players and their families often write and add info as well. Peter Steevensz is the man behind the scenes who built the site and keeps it running! It’s great to see many tennis enthousiasts using and enjoying the site so much! Wikipedia uses Tennisarchives as an important source very often. For me it has always been important to keep the site free. Some sites tried to copy my site, using my results and then ask money to use all the info. I will never consider doing that! The info is free and stays free. But running a site like this isn’t free from costs. The site itself, the domain, the travels to libraries like Wimbledon, it all costs. My time I spent freely because I love doing it. And I would love to keep the site free from adverts. So before they will appear on this site I will try to get a little support from you, the user.

If you enjoy this site as much as I do, please consider donating some money to keep it like it is and improving further in future. For more info and contact write me at: Idzznew at

Alex Nieuwland, Tennis Archives

The Zoological championships

By Andrew Tasiopoulos

The Perth Zoological Gardens, located in the suburb of South Perth, was formally opened on October 17th 1898[i]. In 1903 six grass courts were constructed within the Zoo and the Western Australian Lawn Tennis Association hired these courts for the winter pennant season of that year[ii]. The Western Australian Lawn Tennis Association (W.A.L.T.A.), seeing that after a long winter the state championships site would not be available, decided to utilize the Zoological Gardens courts for the 1903 Western Australian championships[iii]. The Western Australian tennis championships were played at the site between 1903 and 1910 and the site hosted the 1909 Australasian championships between October 16th and 25th of that year.


The South Australian Lawn Tennis Association was initially offered the 1909 Australasian championships just prior to the beginning of the 1909 South Australian championships. The 1909 Australasian championships though were scheduled for later in the year and not in conjunction with the S.A. championships. The S.A.L.T.A., not wanting to host a separate event, suggested that they could hold the 1909 Australasian championships in March of 1910 and align it with their state championships[iv]. The Lawn Tennis Association of Australasia decided to reject this proposal and in May of 1909 they offered the 1909 Australasian championships to the W.A.L.T.A.


In 1909 travelling to Perth from Melbourne took about one week by steamer but the W.A.L.T.A. were very hopeful that several leading Australian players would still make the trip for the championships. In 1906 Stanley Doust and Harry Parker had travelled to Perth and they fought out the Western Australian championships men’s singles final. During most of 1909 both Doust and Harry Parker were playing tennis in England and on the European continent but both made promises to return to Australia by October, just in time to play in the Australasian championships[v]. Neither Doust nor Parker made their way to Perth but neither did any other leading Australian player. Anthony Wilding came to the rescue.


After winning the decisive rubber against Alexander in the 1908 Davis Cup challenge round, Wilding returned to New Zealand. He won the New Zealand men’s singles championship that was played in Nelson and then Wilding motor-cycled down to Christchurch[vi]. Wilding remained in his home town for most of the year and he devoted his time to qualifying for the New Zealand Bar at his father’s law office[vii]. The New Zealand champion still found time to play competition tennis and he won three singles championships. Wilding, unlike the other major Australasian players, agreed to play the Australasian championships and on September 25th 1909 he sailed from Auckland[viii]. He reached Perth on October 11th 1909, a few days prior to the commencement of the championships[ix].


There were only twelve entrants for the men’s singles championship with Ernest Parker, the Western Australian singles champion of 1903, 1904, 1907 and 1908, the best of the local players. By 1909 the number of courts at the Zoological Gardens site had increased to twelve whilst a pavilion and a temporary stand had been erected from which spectators could see all the action. About 500 people were present on the first day to see Wilding play. Wilding easily defeated Robert Neil, a young Victorian player who would go on to win the N.S.W. singles championship in 1920, 6-0 6-0 6-1. In this match the New Zealander “always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, and, with his timing, placing, volleying, and ground strokes, seemed invariably to put the ball just where it would do the most good”[x].


Wilding was too good for the local opposition and he only lost one game in both his quarter-final match against Richard Eagle and in his semi-final match against Ronald Kelsey, a Perth resident who was originally from South Australia. Ernest Parker was not extended in his preliminary matches and he only lost four games during his straight-set wins against Ian Gaze and Gerald Michael O’Dea, a South Australian who had travelled over to the Perth with his brother Justin O’Dea.


The final was played on a Monday public holiday. Ernest Parker’s fine play in the semi-final gave locals some hope that he might “win a set or two from Wilding” or at least test him[xi].


None expected that Wilding would get a runaway in the singles from Parker, the local champion, and they were not wrong, for we saw the visitor thoroughly extended, and realised that in some respects at all events he could be taught something by the local player. Although Wilding won three sets straight the game was characterized by a large number of excellent rallies, strokes, and games. While all the time realizing thoroughly that the better man was winning, there was always the hope that Parker would win a set, or even two, for time after time by a brilliant stroke he would pass his opponent. It was in the air that he shone, however, and where he was much superior to the visitor. Whereas Wilding but rarely killed a long or even a short lob, Parker gave them sudden death every time. But what a wonderful player Wilding is! There is his service, with the first just as good as the second, his striking-out at full pace every time and with the ball never more than a couple of inches above the net, the marvelous recoveries from almost impossible positions, the short drop shots from hard-driven balls, the cross-court half-volleys.


Everywhere but in the air he was really marvelous, and as he had trained himself into splendid health he was able to get about the court very fast and without becoming in the least bit distressed. On the other hand Parker was not trained to the moment. The awful strain of the encounter soon began to make itself felt, and after his big effort in the second set, when he secured five games, he looked absolutely done up, and was unable to make anything like so good a showing in the third set. The greatest excitement prevailed throughout the encounter. While giving the visitor every praise and applause, the attendance could not but think that their man had little to be ashamed of. The chief difference was that in the match Wilding only hit four or five balls into the net or out of bounds; it was no use trying to rely upon him making losing shots. In striking-out Parker often hit the ball into the net, Wilding never did; thus the difference. Many congratulations to Wilding upon again securing the Australasian singles championship. He has come a long way for the title, and none begrudge him the victory.[xii]


Wilding, whose main aim of playing the championships was most likely to get sufficient match practice prior to Davis Cup challenge round, defeated Ernest Parker, 6-1 7-5 6-2, and he thus won his second Australasian singles championship. Lindsay Crooks had the distinction of partnering Wilding in the doubles but the pair were defeated by Ernest Parker and John Vivian Keane, 1-6 6-1 6-1 9-7, in the championship final. Ernest Parker would have his day in the sun when the next Australasian championships were played in Perth.


Beatrice Ethel Lydia Barker, née Woods, (circa 1876-1953), had already won three Western Australian women’s doubles championships with Martha Anthony Walsh before she annexed the women’s singles title in 1909. Beatrice Woods, who was born in Melbourne, was the daughter of George Austin Woods, a naval officer and at one point the Premier of Fiji, and Lydia Mary Woods[xiii]. Lydia Woods, with Beatrice and other family members, moved from Melbourne to Perth in 1891 to join her son, the merchant George Roby Woods, who had been residing there for several years[xiv]. Beatrice Woods played in some of the first tournaments that were conducted in Perth and she won the women’s singles handicap at a tournament which was played in Perth in 1893. In September of 1896 Beatrice Woods married Edmund Shelley Barker and the couple, who lived in the western suburb of Peppermint Grove, had two children. Both sons, Eric Martyn and Keith Austin, would later represent their state in the game. After several years of trying Beatrice Barker reached her first Western Australian singles final in 1909 and on that occasion she defeated Margaret Low in three sets, 6-4 4-6 6-1.

The Zoological championships

[i] The West Australian, 18th October 1898, page 5

[ii] The West Australian, 4th June 1903, page 6

[iii] Daily News, 20th November 1903, page 3

[iv] Evening Journal, 28th April 1909, page 3

[v] The West Australian, 1st May 1909, page 14

[vi] The Star (Christchurch), 9th January 1909, page 5

[vii] Captain Anthony Wilding. Arthur Wallis Myers (1916). London: Hodder and Stoughton, page 100

[viii] The Manawatu Evening Standard (Palmerston North, New Zealand), 28th September 1909, page 5

[ix] The West Australian, 12th October 1909, page 7

[x] The West Australian, 18th October 1909, page 7

[xi] The West Australian, 25th October 1909, page 6

[xii] The West Australian, 27th October 1909, page 9

[xiii] Observer (Adelaide), 23rd September 1905, page 47

[xiv] Western Mail, 12th September 1891, page 11



The First Wimbledon, 1877. Part 5

9 . Henry Thomas W. Wheeler

His first name is not recorded in the Wimbledon archives, just H. Wheeler.  But in the same year, 1877, a few days before Wimbledon, a H.T.W. Wheeler entered at the Prince’s Club at a doubles tournament. In 1878 he entered at Wimbledon once more, losing in the first round again. The Census records give some more info about his birth. He became a barrister at The Inner Temple, St. Martin in the Fields in the mid seventies.

10 . Lestoq Robert Erskine

Lestocq was a student 1861 in 40-41 Brunswick Street, Hove, Sussex. He was listed as a resident in the census report in 87 Harley Street, Marylebone, London, 1871. He was a Scottish tennis player who was active during the first years after the introduction of lawn tennis. He was also a Liberal politician. Erskine was one of the 21 players that took part in the inaugural 1877 Wimbledon Championship singles competition. In the first round he defeated H. Wheeler in straight sets. In the second round he played against J. Lambert who became the first player in Wimbledon history to retire a match, conceding to Erskine after losing the first two sets. Erskine lost in the quarterfinal to William Marshall in three straight sets. The following year, 1878, he again entered the singles event and reached the final of the All-Comers tournament. After a win over A.W. Nicholson in the first round, a bye in the second, a win over F.W. Porter in the third round he reached the quarterfinal in which he defeated C.G. Hamilton in a five-set match. In the semifinal he won against future Wimbledon champion Herbert Lawford but lost the All-Comers final in straight sets to Frank Hadow who would defeat Spencer Gore in the Challenge round to win the title. His last Wimbledon appearance was in 1879 when he reached the second round, after a first-round victory over F.W. Porter, in which he lost to eventual champion John Hartley. Erskine won the first major men’s doubles tennis tournament, the Oxford University Men’s Doubles Championship, in May 1879 partnering Herbert Lawford. This event was a precursor to the Wimbledon men’s doubles championship, introduced in 1884, and was played over the best of seven sets ending in a score of 4–6, 6–4, 6–5, 6–2, 3–6, 5–6, 7–5.

Early in 1877, on 17th May he took part in a public demonstration game at the Skating Rink in Portsdown road, Maida Vale, London. In his memories, Sir Henry John Stedman Cotton said that Erskine was probably the best lawn tennis player in England, though never winning a championship. It seems his tennis career came to an abrupt end. After 1881. Later in his life he became interested in politics. He died during a holiday in Wales. Forgotten by the tennis public.


Lestoq Robert Erskine


11 . Henry Cecil Soden

Soden only played at the first championships, never to be seen again in any tournament afterwards. He was born 13 February 1848 at Clapham, Surrey. He attended Brighton School, East Sussex. His older brother, Frederick Brewer became a keen cricketer who played for Surrey. He died in 1877 before the Wimbledon Championships. A solicitor by profession he moved with his wife to Cape Colony, South Africa, then to Melbourne, Australia. The family settled in the suburb of Fitzroy in Melbourne, where Henry played for the Fitzroy Cricket Club. He died in 1921.

12 . J. Lambert

Nothing much is known of this player. He was the first player in Wimbledon history to retire in a match. He only played one further tournament we know so far, Edgbaston 1881. There he won two matches before losing in the Quarter finals.

13 . Bayly Nash Akroyd

Akroyd was born in Streatham, Surrey on 27th April 1850. He gained his early education at Radley College. Wimbledon 1877 is the first known tournament he played in, losing in the second round.  In 1886 he was runner up to John Moyer Heathcote at the amateur championships for the `Silver racquet in Real tennis. He is more known as a cricketer. He played for Surrey between 1872 and 1879. He was employed at the London Stock exchange.He died at Marylebone, London on 24 November 1926. His brother Swainson also played first-class cricket.

Bayly Nash Akroyd

The First Wimbledon, 1877. Part 4

5 . John Baker

Nothing is really known about this player. Even his first name is uncertain.  He was certainly an experienced player, beating Trist in the first round before losing in four sets to Langham.

6 . John William Trist

He was born in 1848 in Lower Clapton, Hackney. His father was George Trist. At he age of fourteen years John William was placed at Rugby Boy’s school in Warwickshire. In 1870 he was introduced as a pupil at the firm of his father, who was a surveyor. he was also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquarians. He acquired an impressive collection of old coins from Italy, Greece, Asia and Egypt, and also a collection of other antiquities including vases and other types of pottery. He possibly was a member of the London Athletic Club (LAC) Stamford Bridge. There is no evidence that he ever entered another major tennis tournament. John William died, aged 65 on 24th October 1913 at Rochford, Essex. Leaving his estate to his widow Annie Jane.

7 . Francis Nathaniel Langham

On Friday 29th June 1877, two weeks prior to the Wimbledon Championships, Francis entered a doubles tournament held at Prince’s Club, Hans Place. Michael Edwyn Sandys was his partner. They lost the first round to Guy Pym and G. Brand. At Wimbledon Francis had a first round walkover and beat John Baker in the second. In the Quarter finals he managed to take a set from the later winner Gore but was lost the match. He never entered the Wimbledon Championships again. But he kept playing tournaments up to 1884. He was so interested in the game that he later built his own covered tennis Court at Highgate House, just outside Little Creaton, Brixworth, Northamptonshire. He was born on 9th June 1841 in London as son of Herbert Langham and Laura Charlotte Micklethwaite. Francis wat educated at Eton college. He played Football and Cricket there. Later he attended Trinity College, Cambridge. There he started playing Real Tennis. He never married and died 23 August 1916 at 41 Brunswick Place, Hove in Sussex.

8 . Charles Francis Buller

By failing to turn up for his first round match against Langham, he became the first ever Wimbledon competitor to concede a walkover. He was known as a flamboyant and formidable racquets player and athletics hero. Also a great boxer and cricket champion. “Charley” as he was often called was a friend of King Edward VII before he became king. Buller was born in Colombo, Ceylon 26th May 1846 as son of Sir Arthur William Buller. He won his place in the Harrow eleven as a boy of little more than fifteen, taking part in the match against Eton at Lord’s in 1861. On the same occasion an almost equally famous batsman, Mr. Alfred Lubbock, was seen at Lord’s for the first time, but on the opposite side. Buller was in the Harrow team for four seasons, finishing up as captain in 1864. In that year he scored 61 and Harrow beat Eton by an innings and 66 runs. Judged by the standard of these days a score of 61 does not seem anything to make a fuss about, but never did the batting of a public school boy at Lord’s earn higher praise. Thanks to his great natural ability and very careful coaching, in which the Surrey player, William Mortlock, had no small share, Buller at eighteen was already a finished batsman, good enough for any eleven. Style in batting was thought a great deal of in the sixties, and Buller’s style was as nearly as possible perfect-quite comparable to, though very different from that of Tom Hayward or Richard Daft. In the Canterbury week of 1864 Buller played for England against Thirteen of Kent, and for the M. C. C. against the Gentlemen of Kent, scoring in the latter match 21 and 68. The next season he had an assured position among the leading cricketers of the day, and was picked for Gentlemen against Players both at Lord’s and the Oval. His highest and best innings in 1865 was 105 not out for Middlesex against Surrey at the Oval. In 1866 he fully upheld his reputation, but in 1867, having in the meantime entered the 2nd Life Guards, he played very little owing to illness. A year later he was quite himself again, but nothing was seen of him in first-class cricket the following year and in 1870 he played in only a few big matches. Then for nearly three years he dropped out, reappearing at the close of the season of 1873 in George Bennett’s benefit match at Gravesend. During 1874, 1875, and 1876 he played for Middlesex, batting in the same perfect style as ever, but his weight had gone up to over fifteen stone and he was not much use in the field. During this latter part of his career two innings that he played are still vividly remembered-51 for Middlesex against Notts on a sticky wicket at Trent Bridge in August 1875, and 67 not out in the North v. South match for the late Tom Hearne’s benefit at Lord’s in 1876. The last match of importance in which he took part was, we believe, Middlesex v. Yorkshire at Lord’s in 1877. He did not finish up badly, scoring 20 and 25. In Bat v. Ball only two hundreds and a dozen other scores of over 50 in first-class matches appear against Buller’s name, but important fixtures were few in his day and any comparison of his doings with batsmen of our time would be altogether fallacious. Some idea of his merit can be gathered from the fact that the late James Southerton thought he never bowled against a better batsman except, of course, W. G. Grace. Batting was a very exact science when Buller learnt the game, and only E. M. Grace and the left-handers indulged in the pulling by which so many hundreds of runs are nowadays obtained. Buller, however, was a master of all the orthodox strokes, his cut being especially fine. Equally strong in back and forward play he had such wrist power that he could without any apparent effort block a ball to the ring. Quite late in his career he scored five runs with a stroke of this kind off a ball that Alan Hill, the bowler, thought good enough to get anyone’s wicket. He was very strong indeed in dropping down on a shooter, and the last time the present writer ever met him he was rather humorous at the immunity from shooters enjoyed by modern batsmen. Curiously enough with all his ability Buller met with little success for Gentlemen v. Players. In ten matches between 1865 and 1874 he made only 181 runs in eighteen innings, his best score being 41 at the Oval in 1868.

As a cricketer he was known principally as ‘C. F. Buller’ (rather than ‘Captain Buller’), and, although he was not gazetted above the rank of Lieutenant in the Household Cavalry (2nd Regiment of the Life Guards), he was known as ‘Captain Buller’ at the time of the high-profile society divorce scandal of 1880 in England in which he was cited as co-respondent. Prior to this he had been discharged from the Army in 1871 as a result of his bankruptcy. He continued to play cricket successfully (though he was not particularly associated with Ireland), and when he died in1906 Wisden, the cricketer’s ‘bible’, accorded him an appreciative obituary. Scandals marred Mr. Buller’s private life and caused his social eclipse.

Buller had married Louisa Catherine Ridley. The marriage was without children and they eventually divorced. Buller died 22th November 1906 at Cobb, Lyme Regis.

sources: ESPN Cricinfo,, The birth of Lawn Tennis by Robert T. Everitt and Richard Hillway (2019) and The British Newspaper archive.

The First Wimbledon, 1877. Part 3

3. Robert Dalby Dalby (Formerly Blunt)

Born in 1836 as Robert Dalby Blunt in Braybrooke, Northamptonshire. His parents were Robert Dalby Blunt and Mary Ann Dalby. He attended school at Rugby. After studying in Cambridge he became a Barrister-at-law. In 1869 he married Mary Selina Rogers. They had at least four sons and were living at Kensington, London. Later they moved to “Charnwood” at Wimbledon. They lived there during the 1877 championships, just a mile away from Worple road. His opponent in the first round was Montague Hankey. He lost 4-6 2-6 6-3 2-6. He took an active role in the tournament, later acting as an umpire. Despite his early exit Dalby was present at the 1878 championships. Defeating Beckwith Smith, a 29 year old London stockbroker. “The Field” described his play as good at placing the ball away from his adversary. In the next round he had no chance against A.C. Brown. Evidence suggests that he soon became a member of the All England Club. He was a Steward at the championships at least until 1883. In 1885 he was a manager of the Sun Life Assurance Company. He died at Wimbledon on 14th March 1887.


4. Montague Hankey

Montague Hankey was born 16 August 1840 at Wimbledon, son of Thomas and Louisa Hankey. He attended Eton Public School. In 1859 he was enrolled at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was a very good Real Tennis player competing in many matches for Cambridge against Oxford. Hankey graduated with a B.A. in 1863 and married his cousin Alice Aitcheson Roberts and then gained his Masters degree. He took a Curacy in Ramsgate, Kent. Soon after he returned to London and took up the Curacy at St. Giles in the Fields. He finally settled in Maiden Newton, Dorset. He remained rector there for the next 44 years. Living with his wife and daughter Ethel.


Montague Hankey on the left with his older brother Hubert


Up until 1877 Hankey had drawn most of his lawn tennis experience from events and matches at Weymouth in Dorset or at small tournaments at clubs nearby. Hankey was at the time a member of the Weymouth Archery and Lawn Tennis Club. On Monday 9 July Hankey played the second match of the day, his first round match against Robert Dalby Dalby. In the second round he lost to the later winner Spencer Gore. In 1880 he returned to the Championships, but lost in the first round. He won tournaments in Dorchester (1879) and Bournemouth (1881). Hankey died 25 August 1919 and was buried in the cemetery of St. Mary’s Church, Maiden Newton.


Reverend Montague Hankey




The First Wimbledon, 1877. Part 2

Let’s take a closer look at the 22 players who participated at the first Wimbledon championships in 1877.

1. Henry Thomas Gillson

Henry Thomas Gillson was born in Weston-super-Mare on the 10th May 1837.  So when he entered the 1877 competition, he was already a veteran. He was unlucky to draw a first round match against the later winner, Spencer Gore. That didn’t stop him from entering again two years later. But like two years before he was then beaten again in the first round. Before playing tennis Gillson was a good Cricket player.  Between 1858 and 1869 he played for different teams and even one appearance for the All-England XI.

He was the fourth of six sons of Reverend Edward Gillson B.A. He entered St. John’s College, Cambridge in 1855. Eventually gaining a masters degree in 1868. He was a barrister by profession. In 1862 he married Anne Ellen Paget. They had five children. During the early 1870’s, the family lived at High Elms, Streatham, Surrey. By 1881 they were living in Rugby in Warwickshire. Finally they moved again, this time to Hampshire. He died on 8th March 1929 at “Allcots”, Fareham, Portchester in Hampshire.

Portsmouth Evening news: Portchester. DEATH OF MR. H. T. GILLSON.— Mr. Henry Thomas Gillson (91). late of Swanmore Cottage, Upper Swanmore. and Rutland, Leicestershire, passed away at the home of his daughter. Alcots, Castle Street, shortly after midnight on Thursday. had been under medical treatment for some months and recently seemed to be recovering from attack of influenza, but following a relapse and pneumonia setting in, slowly sank. Mr. Gillson came of a well-known ILeicestershire family and was great athlete in his dov. Before coming to Portchester he resided at Swanmore for over 12 years. The funeral took place at ltchens Abbas, near Winchester, at •2.30 to-day. the interment being near the graves of his kinsfolk. 

2. Spencer William Gore

Spencer William Gore was the son of the Hon. Charles Alexander Gore and Lady Augusta Lavinia Priscilla (née Ponsonby). Born 10th March 1850 at Wimbledon. His two brothers were the theologian Charles Gore, the first Bishop of Birmingham, and Sir Francis Charles Gore, Solicitor. Spencer was born and raised within a mile of the All England Croquet Club at West Side House, Wimbledon Common, Surrey. He was educated at Harrow School, where he excelled at all games, especially football and cricket, and was the captain of the school cricket team in 1869. On 9 January 1875 Gore married Amy Margaret Smith, with whom he had four children—Kathleen Amy, Florence Emily Frances, George Pym (1875–1959) and Spencer Frederick (1878–1914). The last became well known as the artist Spencer Gore while George was a boxing champion and played cricket for Durham. He joined Pickering and Smith, the property advisory firm of his father-in-law Edmund James Smith who became President of the Surveyors’ Institute. Gore was promoted to partnership and the firm was renamed Smiths and Gore.

Gore made his first-class cricket debut for Surrey against Middlesex in 1874. He played cricket mainly for I Zingari at club level, playing his last match for them in 1893.  In 1877 Gore won the Gentleman’s Singles beating William Marshall 6–1, 6–2, 6–4 on 19 July 1877. He was the first player who ever used the technique of volleying, therefore he is considered the creator of the style of volley. As the reigning champion Gore did not have to play through the tournament in the following year’s Championship but instead played in the challenge round against the winner of the All-Comers tournament. He lost the Gentleman’s Singles challenge round to Frank Hadow 7–5, 6–1, 9–7 and did not compete in the Wimbledon Championships again after that match. Despite his historic championship title, Gore was not enthusiastic about the new sport of lawn tennis. In 1890, thirteen years after winning his championship title, he wrote: “… it is want of variety that will prevent lawn tennis in its present form from taking rank among our great games … That anyone who has really played well at cricket, tennis, or even rackets, will ever seriously give his attention to lawn tennis, beyond showing himself to be a promising player, is extremely doubtful; for in all probability the monotony of the game as compared with others would choke him off before he had time to excel in it.” 

Gore died at the Granville Hotel, Ramsgate, Kent aged 56. He was buried in Ramsgate Cemetery on 23 April 1906 (grave number AA511).

Spencer Gore at younger and older age and Meads house (Image courtesy of W Saunders)

Source: The birth of Lan Tennis by Robert T. Everitt and Richard Hillway (2019) and The British Newspaper archive.

The First Wimbledon, 1877. Part 1

The 1877 Wimbledon Championship was  held at the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club (AEC & LTC) in Wimbledon, London. It was the world’s first official lawn tennis tournament, and was later recognised as the first Grand Slam tournament or “Major”. The AEC & LTC had been founded in July 1868, as the All England Croquet Club; lawn tennis was introduced in February 1875 to compensate for the waning interest in croquet. In June 1877 the club decided to organise a tennis tournament to pay for the repair of its pony roller, needed to maintain the lawns. A set of rules was drawn up for the tournament, derived from the first standardised rules of tennis issued by the Marylebone Cricket Club in May 1875.

The Gentlemen’s Singles competition, the only event of the championship, was contested on grass courts by 22 players who each paid one guinea to participate. The tournament started on 9 July 1877, and the final – delayed for three days by rain – was played on 19 July in front of a crowd of about 200 people who each paid an entry fee of one shilling. The winner received 12 guineas in prize money and a silver challenge cup, valued at 25 guineas, donated by the sports magazine The Field. Spencer Gore, a 27-year-old rackets player from Wandsworth, became the first Wimbledon champion by defeating William Marshall, a 28-year-old real tennis player, in three straight sets in a final that lasted 48 minutes. The tournament made a profit of £10 and the pony roller remained in use. An analysis made after the tournament led to some modifications of the rules regarding the court dimensions.

The first public announcement of the tournament was published on 9 June 1877 in The Field magazine under the header Lawn Tennis Championship:

The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon, propose to hold a lawn tennis meeting, open to all amateurs, on Monday, July 9th and following days.[l] Entrance fee, £1 1s 0d. Names and addresses of competitors to be forwarded to the Hon. Sec. A.E.C. and L.T.C. before Saturday, July 7, or on that day before 2.15 p.m. at the club ground, Wimbledon. Two prizes will be given – one gold champion prize to the winner, one silver to the second player. The value of the prizes will depend on the number of entries, and will be declared before the draw; but in no case will they be less than the amount of the entrance money, and if there are ten and less than sixteen entries, they will be made up to £10 10s and £5 5s respectively.– Henry Jones – Hon Sec of the Lawn Tennis sub-committee

Players were instructed to provide their own racquets and wear shoes without heels. The announcement also stated that a programme would be available shortly with further details, including the rules to be adopted for the meeting. Invitations were sent to prospective participants. Potential visitors were informed that those arriving by horse and carriage should use the entrance at Worple Road while those who planned to come by foot were advised to use the railway path. Upon payment of the entrance fee, the participants were allowed to practise before the Championship on the twelve available courts with the provision that on Saturdays and during the croquet championship week, held the week before the tennis tournament, the croquet players had the first choice of courts. Practice balls, similar to the ones used for the tournament, were available from the club’s gardener at a price of 12s per dozen balls. John H. Walsh, in his capacity as editor of The Field, persuaded his employer to donate a cup worth 25 guineas for the winner; the Field Cup. The cup was made of sterling silver and had the inscription: The All England Lawn Challenge Cup – Presented by the Proprietors of The Field – For competition by Amateurs – Wimbledon July 1877. On 6 July 1877, three days prior to the start of the tournament, a notice was published in The Times:

Next week at the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club Ground a Lawn Tennis Championship Meeting will be held. The ground is situated close to the Wimbledon Station on the South Western Railway, and is sufficiently large for the erection of thirty “courts”. On each day the competition will begin at 3.30, the first ties, of course, beginning on Monday. The Hon. Sec. of the meeting is Mr. J.H. Walsh, while Mr. H. Jones will officiate as referee. The entries are numerous.

In accordance with the All England Regulations for the Management of Prize Meetings, the draw for the 22 entrants was made on Saturday, 7 July 1877, at 3:30 p.m. in the club’s pavilion. H.T. Gillson had the distinction of being the first player in the history of modern tennis to be drawn for a tournament. The posts, nets and hand-stitched, flannel-covered India-rubber balls for the tournament were supplied by Jefferies & Co from Woolwich, while the rackets used were an adaptation of those used in real tennis, with a small and slightly lopsided head. The ball-boys kept the tennis balls, 180 of which were used during the tournament, in canvas wells. The umpires who were provided for the matches sat on chairs which in turn were placed on small tables of 18 inches height to give them a better view of the court.

The tournament began on Monday, 9 July 1877, at 3:30 p.m. and daily programmes were available for sixpence. On the first day, in sunny weather, ten matches were played, which completed the first round. Full match scores were published on the notice board inside the pavilion. F.N. Langham, a Cambridge tennis blue, was given a walkover in the first round when C.F. Buller, an Etonian and well-known rackets player, did not appear. Julian Marshall became the first player to win a five-set match when he fought back from being two sets down against Captain Grimston. Spencer Gore, a 27-year-old rackets player from Wandsworth and at the time a land agent and surveyor by profession, won his first round match against Henry Thomas Gillson in straight sets. The five second-round matches were played on Tuesday, 10 July, again in fine weather. Charles Gilbert Heathcote had a bye in the second round. J. Lambert became the first player in Wimbledon Championships’ history to retire a match, conceding to L.R. Erskine after losing the first two sets. Julian Marshall again won a five-set match, this time against F.W. Oliver, while Gore defeated Montague Hankey in four sets.

The quarter-finals were played on Wednesday, 11 July, before a larger number of spectators than had attended the previous matches. Start of play was delayed from the scheduled 3:30 p.m. due to strong winds. Gore defeated Langham in four sets, William Marshall beat Erskine, also in four sets, and Julian Marshall, who injured his knee during the match after a fall, lost to Heathcote in straight sets. The quarter-final matches left three players, instead of four, in the draw for the semi-finals scheduled for Thursday. To solve the situation lots were drawn and Marshall, a 28-year-old architect and Cambridge real tennis blue, was given a bye to the final. His opponent would be Gore, who defeated Heathcote in straight sets in the only semi-final played. When the semi-final stage had concluded on Thursday, 12 July, play was suspended until next Monday, 16 July, to avoid a clash with the popular annual Eton v Harrow cricket match that was played at Lord’s on Friday and Saturday.

The final was postponed from its scheduled start on Monday at 4 p.m. until Thursday, 19 July, at 3:30 p.m. because of rain. On Thursday it was still showery, causing the final to be further delayed by an hour. It began on a dead and slippery court in front of about 200 spectators. There was a temporary three-plank stand on one side of the court offering seating to about thirty people. Marshall won the toss, elected to serve first and was immediately broken by Gore. After the first set was won by Gore, it started to rain for a quarter of an hour; this further softened the ground and affected the quality of play. The final lasted 48 minutes, and Spencer Gore won the inaugural championship against William Marshall in three straight sets of 15, 13, and 20 minutes respectively. En route to the title Gore had won 15 sets and lost two and won 99 games for the loss of 46. Gore, the volley specialist, had beaten the baseline player, at a time when volleying was considered by some to be unsporting. Some tried to outlaw the volley and a discussion on its merits took place in The Field for weeks after the tournament.

The final was followed by a play-off match for 2nd place between Marshall and Heathcote. The players could not fix another date for the match and decided to play it straight away. By agreement, the match was limited to best-of-three sets. Marshall, playing his second match of the day, defeated Heathcote in straight sets, in front of a diminished crowd, and won the silver prize of seven guineas.

On 20 July 1877, the day following the final, a report was published in The Morning Post newspaper:

Lawn Tennis Championship – A fair number of spectators assembled yesterday, notwithstanding the rain, on the beautifully kept ground of the All England Club, Wimbledon, to witness the final contest between Messrs. Spencer Gore and W. Marshall for the championship. The play on both sides was of the highest order and its exhibition afforded a great treat to lovers of the game. All three sets were won buy Mr. Gore, who, therefore, becomes lawn tennis champion for 1877, and wins the £12 12s. gold prize and holds the silver challenge cup, value £25 5s. The second and third prizes were then played for by Messrs. W. Marshall and G.C. Heathcote (best of three sets by agreement). Mr. Marshall won two sets to love, and therefore takes the silver prize (value £12 12s.). Mr. Heathcote takes the third prize, value £3 3s.

A report in The Field stated: “The result was a more easy victory for Mr Spencer Gore than had been expected.”. Third-placed Heathcote said that Gore was the best player of the year and had a varied service with a lot of twist on it. Gore, according to Heathcote, was a player with an aptitude for many games and had a long reach and a strong and flexible wrist. His volleying style was novel at the time, a forceful shot instead of merely a pat back over the net. All the opponents who were defeated by Gore on his way to the title were real tennis players. His victory was therefore regarded as a win of the rackets style of play over the real tennis style, and of the offensive style of the volley player – who comes to the net to force the point, over the baseline player – who plays groundstrokes from the back of the court, intent on keeping the ball in play. His volleying game was also successful because the height of the net at the post – 5 ft (1.52 m) in contrast to the modern height of 3 ft 6 in (1.07 m) – made it difficult for his opponents to pass him by driving the ball down the line. Gore indicated that the real tennis players had the tendency to play shots from corner to corner over the middle of the net and did so at such a height that made volleying easy.

Despite his historic championship title, Gore was not enthusiastic about the new sport of lawn tennis. In 1890, thirteen years after winning his championship title, he wrote: “… it is want of variety that will prevent lawn tennis in its present form from taking rank among our great games … That anyone who has really played well at cricket, tennis, or even rackets, will ever seriously give his attention to lawn tennis, beyond showing himself to be a promising player, is extremely doubtful; for in all probability the monotony of the game as compared with others would choke him off before he had time to excel in it.” He did return for the 1878 Championship to defend his title in the Challenge Round but lost in straight sets to Frank Hadow, a coffee planter from Ceylon, who effectively used the lob to counter Gore’s net play. It was Gore’s last appearance at the Wimbledon Championships.

The tournament generated a profit of £10 and the pony roller stayed in use. When the tournament was finished, Henry Jones gathered all the score cards to analyse the results and found that, of the 601 games played during the tournament, 376 were won by the server (“striker-in”) and 225 by the receiver (“striker-out”). At a time when the service was either made underarm or, usually, at shoulder height, this was seen as a serving dominance and resulted in a modification of the rules for the 1878 Championship. To decrease the target area for the server, the length of the service court was reduced from 26 to 22 ft (7.92 to 6.71 m) and to make passing shots easier against volleyers the height of the net was reduced to 4 ft 9 in (1.45 m) at the posts and 3 feet (0.91 m) at the centre. These rules were published jointly by the AEC & LTC and the MCC, giving the AEC & LTC an official rule-making authority and in effect retroactively sanctioning its 1877 rules. It marked the moment when the AEC & LTC effectively usurped the rule-making initiative from the MCC although the latter would still ratify rule changes until 1882. In recognition of the importance and popularity of lawn tennis, the club was renamed in 1882 to All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC).

(Source: Wikipedia)

In Part 2 we will take a closer look at who those first 22 contestants in 1877 were.


Looking back at Australia 1905

How it all started for the Australian open

The 1905 Australasian Championships, as they were called back then,was a tennis tournament played on Grass courts in Melbourne, Australia at Warehouseman’s Cricket Ground. The tournament took place from 17 November through 27 November 1905. It was the inaugural edition of the Australasian Championships and consisted of a men’s singles and men’s doubles competition. The men’s singles event had a field of 17 players and was won by Australian Rodney Heath. The first Championships for women were held in 1922. The site rotated between Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Adelaide until 1988, when the tournament was permanently settled at the hard courts of Flinders Park, which was renamed Melbourne Park in 1996. (The switch to hard courts in 1988 left Wimbledon the sole major grass-court tournament in professional tennis.) Although Australians often dominated the field of tennis internationally, the Australian tournament for many years suffered from the reluctance of overseas players to travel the long distance to compete, a situation largely remedied with the advent of jet travel. The tournament is played in January. The Australian Open has always been held in January, but 1977 was the only year when the tournament was held twice in one calendar year. This was due to a shift in the Australian Open draw and the subsequent tournament to December. As a result, there were two tournaments in 1977 and the December schedule the continued until 1987 when normality was restored. 

Rodney Heath, first winner.